George Chuvalo: A Better Head Than Most

By Mike Casey on May 15, 2012
George Chuvalo: A Better Head Than Most
Was he handled wrongly? Did he lack Rocky’s ability to knuckle down and learn new tricks?

It seemed that Chuvalo simply couldn’t function properly without the impetus of having his face turned into an abstract painting…

I don’t know about you, but I love George Chuvalo. I always have. More than anything, I love the way he survived the punches of the greatest heavyweights of his generation, overcame terrible family tragedies and emerged as the man he is today: thoroughly lucid, sharp as a tack, humorous and utterly engaging when he sits down to discuss his turbulent life and career.

There is a great video link at the end of this thread for those of you who haven’t already picked up on it. It is of the man himself, outlining the reasons for his legendary durability and resilience. But first off, here’s a bruising little story….

Secret

George Chuvalo had finally discovered the secret. No longer would he be the likeable slugger who won some and lost some and took punishment like no other heavyweight around. Now the Canadian Rock was punching correctly with those meaty arms and had learned how to be a consistent winner. To cut through the technical claptrap, old sage Charley Goldman had taught George to hold his arms closer to his sides so that the weight of his body went with the punch.

It was late 1964 and George had just turned the heavyweight rankings on their head with a dramatic 11th round stoppage of Doug Jones at Madison Square Garden. About time too, said many.

What frustrated worldly observers of the game was that a man of such abundant raw talent was getting a reputation as a catcher when he had it in him to be an ace pitcher. George was a terrific body puncher and undoubtedly a knockout hitter whose great promise attracted the fleeting attention of Rocky Marciano.

But that raw talent never was truly harnessed and polished. It teased and glimmered every once in a while and then got smothered. Was George handled wrongly? Did he lack Rocky’s ability to knuckle down and learn new tricks?

The Jones victory was indeed a lulu and Chuvalo looked mightily impressive. There would be other big victories and false dawns that would enable George to remain a stalwart of the heavyweight top ten for what seemed like a lifetime. He fought a titanic 12-rounder with Floyd Patterson, battered Manuel Ramos and knocked out Jerry Quarry.

For the most part, however, Chuvalo was the slow plodder, the catcher, the guy who could take a licking and keep on ticking. Not once was he knocked off his feet in his 93 professional fights. Oscar (Ringo) Bonavena nearly managed the feat in one of those “what is it a knockdown?” controversies in his 1966 clash with George at Madison Square Garden. Well, it wasn’t a knockdown. Not officially.

The slick and smart boxers and jabbers like Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Ellis and Ernie Terrell could never go wrong against Chuvalo. Yet take a look at George’s stand against Ali at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in 1966, and you will see the potential that went to waste. How I want to prod loveable old George whenever I see that fight. How I want to urge him to punch more often, bob and weave, duck and roll. Ali won the contest by the proverbial street, yet the consistent surprise when we watch it afresh is its competitiveness. Fighting as basically as he did, in more or less straight-up fashion, Chuvalo was able to find Ali’s jaw repeatedly and smash him to the body and ribs all night long. A sobering thought for those who maintain that Muhammad would have skated around Rocky Marciano.

It’s in the bones!

After spending just under three rounds in the bludgeoning company of George Foreman, Chuvalo compared the experience to being hit by a Cadillac going at 50 miles per hour. Note, dear reader, that George did not say, “…being run down by a Cadillac.”

Foreman’s Caddy knocked a fair few chunks out of the Canadian Rock. But it couldn’t run it down or flatten it. Don’t ever watch the film of that fight if something has gone down the wrong way and your stomach is feeling a little tender. To this day, 42 years on, I cannot fathom how Chuvalo managed to stay on his feet against the slow hail of crushing blows that soaked into his head and body. George’s sponge-like resistance was quite something to behold. Once Foreman’s punches struck home, they somehow seemed to disappear, like a twister at sea that suddenly evaporates before it hits the land.

Chuvalo attributed his durability to his exceptionally solid and absorbent bone structure. He would stand on his head for long periods to strengthen the muscles in that famously thick and chunky neck.

On those rare occasions when his bones were broken, he couldn’t be sure they were. He believes he suffered a busted nose at school after taking a thump from a fellow pupil, only to be told by his boxing buddies to get into the ring and forget about it. The theory was that a few more belts on the schnozz would make the pain go away. The twisted nose became a trademark of George’s rugged face, of which he was most proud.

Chuvalo could be no less conventional in the way he won bouts. In a 1972 Canadian title fight with Charley Chase at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, George recorded a sixth round technical knockout. Chase certainly took some punches, make no mistake about that. But it was a broken hand that forced his retirement. Hitting George for any great length of time could be an oddly harrowing and demoralizing experience. If it couldn’t break a man’s bones or his very resolve, it could at least cause him to nod off at the wheel.

Bizarre

Jerry Quarry suffered such an experience in a bizarre fight that quite probably represented the greatest and unlikeliest win of George Chuvalo’s punishing and checkered career.

Jerry was very much the golden boy of the heavyweights in 1969, a hugely talented and dangerous counter puncher, a marketing man’s dream with his rugged good looks, a charismatic Jack Kennedy in boxing trunks. Quarry had dismantled the previously undefeated Buster Mathis with almost technical perfection, lost with great honor in a classic summer war with Joe Frazier and was itching to get back into the fray against a fellow top 10 contender who could be presumed to be a reasonably safe opponent.

Chuvalo had reached the stage in his career where he fitted this requirement perfectly. Promoters called on George at such times as surely as movie producers called on Dennis Hopper to put some lumps on the leading man without actually killing him.

What was often forgotten was that George Chuvalo never once stepped into a ring to lose. He saw his big chance against Quarry. And my, oh my, how the Canadian slugger took it!

From the opening bell, the fight had a surreal air to it, as if nothing at Madison Square Garden was quite in its proper order. George fell behind on points, as he invariably did, but never overwhelmingly so. He was always in the thick of the battle, rumbling forward like a little tank, scoring with some punches and missing with others. He was competing with Quarry without really giving Jerry the kind of challenge that concentrates a man’s thoughts and keeps his brain ticking over.

Quarry needed that challenge throughout his career. He needed a specific purpose to win, a sufficiently testing puzzle to solve. He thrived on being written off and told he couldn’t win. He positively bristled at any implication that his opponent could outbox or outpunch him.

Chuvalo, rock steady old George, wasn’t expected to do any of these things. One could almost hear Jerry thinking, “What’s the point of this?” When we are troubled by a pesky wasp, we bat it away. We don’t find ten different ways to do it. Such was the way that Quarry fought Chuvalo.

Never underestimate the immense danger of a tough old pro who just keeps hanging around, no matter what. Jerry did a lot of damage with some classic textbook jabbing and hooking, splitting George’s cheek open in the fourth round with a combination of punches. Chuvalo was well accustomed to such treatment and continue to rumble forward. It seemed that he simply couldn’t function properly without the impetus of having his face turned into an abstract painting.

When the seventh round opened, George looked as if he had been worked over by some bad people from Brooklyn. But he was still punching and catching Quarry with some hefty clouts. Then Chuvalo hit the jackpot with a long left to the temple that caused Jerry to stop and dither like a man who has lost his keys. Quarry plopped down on his backside, clambered straight up and then stumbled into a dreadful fog. He dropped back down on one knee to take a few extra seconds as referee Zach Clayton tolled off the count. It was then that Jerry discovered how hard it is to count from one to ten when your mind decides to take an inconvenient vacation. He was still on one knee at “ten.” Out for the count and out of the fight.

Hell came to breakfast in the Quarry dressing room as Jerry thundered his protests. “Nobody knocks me out,” he insisted. “I was looking at the clock and I couldn’t hear the count because the crowd was yelling so much. I got gypped. I got ruined. That destroyed me. I could have gotten up. I couldn’t tell the count by his (Clayton’s) fingers.”

Chuvalo’s response to Jerry’s tirade was as gorgeously blunt as his fighting style. “If he couldn’t tell nine from ten, it must have been a good punch.”

Hit me with your rhythm stick, hit me slowly, hit me quick. Didn’t make any difference to George Chuvalo.

Here’s George explaining how he did it….
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkxWFmUPZnA

Mike Casey is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

ALL TIME BOXING RANKINGS by Mike Casey at: https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

George Chuvalo vs. Doug Jones (part 1 of 3)



George Chuvalo vs. Doug Jones (part 2 of 3)



George Chuvalo vs. Doug Jones (part 3 of 3)



Floyd Patterson vs George Chuvalo, part 1/3



Floyd Patterson vs George Chuvalo, part 2/3



Floyd Patterson vs George Chuvalo, part 3/3



1966 muhammad ali vs george chuvalo (voice don dumphy) part1



1966 muhammad ali vs george chuvalo voice don dumphy part2



1966 muhammad ali vs george chuvalo voice don dumphy 3-3



George Chuvalo Joe Frazier



Jerry Quarry vs George Chuvalo



George FOREMAN TKO'S George Chuvalo



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  1. Ray Mac 09:43am, 03/21/2013

    Mike that was a great story. Rich in history and detail. Mike, I hope they paid you , whatever the cost it was money well spent.

    Mike, I once spoke to Joe Frazier about some of the guys he fought (I did not ask him about the butterfly). And Joe was highly complimentary about his old foes by and by. Regarding Chuvalo, Joe felt that George was one second to slow with his movements. And that if he had that extra quickness he may have been invincible.

    I was at the Quarry-Chuvalo fight in Dec. of 1969. Like everyone else in the Garden I was shocked when Quarry went up and down. And finally counted out.

    Over the decades since I have watched that fight a few times and have come to the conclusion that Quarry was losing steam and maybe heart and as a result he was becoming discouraged. I do believe that Zack Clayton gave Quarry a fast count as he did the same to Foreman against Ali. I cannot explain why but Clayton was a fast counter.

    Fast count slow count Foreman was a beaten man in Zaire. And the same may have been true about Quarry. I am not sure if Quarry had the determination to match Chuvalo’s. Actually, Jerry demonstrated that he did not. George out gutted him. Just as George would have out gutted Cooney.

    Mike, you reminded me of what a true gladiator Chuvalo was. George always came into the ring in shape, and fought his heart out. What more can a gladiator do? God bless him and watch over him. It’s not been easy for him

  2. Tex Hassler 12:28pm, 03/17/2013

    The Quarry - Chuvalo fight was a fight to behold. Quarry lost because of over confidence not to mention an extreme punch landed on his chin by Chuvalo. George had all the heart in the world and did not know what the word quit meant. He is a great representative for our sport now and a first class person.

  3. bikermike 10:17am, 03/17/2013

    George Chuvalo had the best left hook to the body in Boxing History…just ask George Foreman

  4. bikermike 10:14am, 03/17/2013

    George Chuvalo clearly beat then WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION Ernie Terrell, and the only sperm garglers that felt Terrell was the winner were the three blind mice/judges.

    Chuvalo will be in th HOF….after all…....most people still talk about him…and he hasn’t been in the ring in decades…......though to see him…you’d think he could still handle today’s blubber butts with no problem

  5. bikermike 10:06am, 03/17/2013

    yeh…..what Jesse O’Hara said

  6. Jesse O'Hara 07:28pm, 05/21/2012

    He took the first Ali fight on 17 days notice and sent Ali to the hospital with bleeding kidneys!  Ali actually wouldn’t fight Chuvalo, when he was contractually obligated to do so, after Chuvalo destroyed DeJohn in Louisville.  Chuvalo was robbed against Terrell for the world WBA title in 1965 and his fight with Patterson was one of the best heavyweight battles I’ve ever seen, actually.  Heavyweight Champion of Canada for 22 years and never knocked down in 97 pro fights.  Ranked in the top ten longer than any heavyweight in history - 17 years!  Definitely an A-list fighter and should be in the Hall of Fame.

  7. mikecasey 04:41am, 05/17/2012

    Yes, Cheekay, me too. He’s a very engaging speaker and talks a lot of sense!

  8. Cheekay Atomic 02:46am, 05/17/2012

    I was totally captivated by Chuvalo after I saw ‘Facing Ali’....his segment might have been the most interesting thing about that film.  Very compelling guy.

  9. raxman 06:23pm, 05/16/2012

    Irish - did you see the briggs fight? you can’t call it a fight. the New South Wales authority refused briggs a license about a month before the fight. and of course green’s home town perth let the fight move there. i knew there was trouble the moment briggs entered the ring and his trunks were under his rib cage and there was still a roll of fat over the top. twilight zone indeed. he must’ve looked terrible in training. his coaches said that he never looked great in the gym and they hoped he’d pull something together on the night. paul briggs was a warrior - his two wars with adamek prove it - the first i feel he was robbed. but his boxing combined with his kick boxing, illegal fights and street fights have made his brain unable to take a shot. he went down via a glancing jab.
    as for the jones fight RJJ hadn’t warmed up properly for some reason - and he underestimated green’s power. Green i feel at his best was just, just a world class fighter - but he was always a big puncher. he caught rjj on his achilles heel - the temple.
    ‘green’s behaviour after the briggs fight was so bad i turned on him completely as a fan and took great joy in getting 6-1 against him vs tarver.
    green thought he was cherry picking a past it fighter.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 05:52pm, 05/16/2012

    Raxman- Maybe you can help….I have this uneasy feeling that Green’s one round blow outs of RJJ and Briggs took place somewhere out in the Twilight Zone.

  11. raxman 03:12pm, 05/16/2012

    Great read mike, although the end felt rushed to me, and i wanted more. plus you quoted one of the more annoying songs every written.
    chuvalo and quarry seem to share, apart from their fight together, one common thread - you never hear boxing fans say they’re not huge admirers.
    its amazing how sharp chuvalo remains given how many big shots he took - he is really the only HW from that era that can still speak clearly.

  12. Matt McGrain 12:55pm, 05/16/2012

    Love this guy even today.  Good read.

  13. mikecasey 11:50am, 05/16/2012

    Echoed, Irish! My goodness, I loved Jerry Quarry - even on his bad nights!

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 07:53am, 05/16/2012

    Mike Casey- Thanx for the help…I guess that was it….we knew it was a shot to the temple that disoriented Jerry… but through the years we wondered why he took the knee….we thought he was being a smart pro…but then again why would he wait for the count of nine? He was boxing beautifully and winning going away….may God rest his eternal soul.

  15. the thresher 07:15am, 05/16/2012

    A very decent man

  16. Don from Prov 06:59am, 05/16/2012

    Was just watching Foreman/Frazier fights—

    Anyway, great article. 
    Reference to “abstract painting” funny and smart.  I like how settled into who he is George seems and also very glad that he’s lucid after all the wars he was in.  You do it every time out, Mr. Casey.  This one is like a photo that captures the man.  Appreciated.

  17. Bob Mladinich 03:17am, 05/16/2012

    It’s a shame that George is best remembered for his high profile losses because he was a terrific fighter who beat top competition and was extremely entertaining. There is no doubt that George belongs in the Hall of Fame. It’s a travesty that he’s not there. He was an A-List fighter in a very strong era and he more than held his own. He is also an an exemplary human being who is one of the most intelligent and physically youthful 70-year-olds you will ever meet.

  18. MIKE SCHMIDT 01:29am, 05/16/2012

    Great guy for the sport and is often out supporting the amateur and pro scene up here in Canada and of course travels the world doing his no to drugs lectures—one of the highest KO percentages in heavyweight history, Ring Magazine Fight of the Year with Patterson, Ali ended up going to hospital after first fight—George should be in the Hall of Fame. One fight where I think he came closest to going down was the Ellis fight—he had big big trouble with Jimmy’s style and the sneaky overhand right—GREAT ARTICLE AMIGO

  19. john coiley 01:15am, 05/16/2012

    George was a monster for sure. Technique aside, he was a winner.

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